I have a lot of emotional baggage when it comes to dating — everyone has — but for a while I thought a lot of it was centred on the fact that guy after guy had treated me badly since I had become single. Most of it came from the people I dated refusing to be exclusive with me, which led me to think things like ‘what’s wrong with me?’ and ‘why don’t you like me enough to want to be my boyfriend?’
But I recently realised that my baggage goes so far back and was pushed so deeply into me that I’d actually forgotten about it. Forgetting about it was the only way to move forward, but it had recently reared its ugly head and I actually started suffering from flashbacks.
My psychologist has suggested that I have a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. You’ve no doubt heard about this disorder before, with it being defined as ‘anxiety and flashbacks triggered by a traumatic event. This is common among people who have been in warzones and witnessed or been involved in horrific incidences like sexual assault, assault, shell shock or life-threatening events.
I feel like a fraud saying I have PTSD because it doesn’t come from any form of extreme event like being raped or sent into a war zone. It didn’t even stem from my divorce and the grief I felt after my husband of three years broke up with me. It actually stemmed from the sexual relationship I had during my marriage.
In 1980, PTSD gained official recognition as a mental health condition and as a symptom of an anxiety disorder. Divorce is listed as the second highest cause of grief and stress — after the death of a loved one — so it is completely fair to chalk the loss of an important relationship and the sustained emotional trauma and its lasting affects into the PTSD category. You plan on building a life with someone, and even start to, and then suddenly everything you thought you knew has fallen apart.
Those who have been reading my articles for some time now have heard me briefly mention the fact I am divorced, and it was a huge turning point in my life that led me to many of these sexual learning experiences I am writing for you. I’ve always avoided discussing my ex-husband in my articles because the grief and the loss of him as my husband has been pretty devastating. As we approach what should have been our fifth year wedding anniversary, and as I receive the signed divorce papers in the mail, it finally seems like the right time to let you in on my biggest learning curve of all.
I married my best friend from college and we were together for seven years. People regularly remarked that we were the perfect couple and while we were very dependent on each other it seemed right. There was just one problem — our sexual compatibility didn’t match up.
By now you know I have an extremely high sex drive, but unfortunately my husband’s was basically non-existent.
He told me he hated going down on me and it led me to develop a complex about what could possibly be wrong with my vagina to make my husband — someone who loved me completely — not want to go down there. From what I heard it was a very normal sexual act and one I loved providing for my husband so I didn’t understand what was wrong with me that it just wasn’t done in our bedroom.
That wasn’t the only incompatibility, though. I would forever be trying to initiate sex and he would say ‘I don’t feel like it tonight,’ and rolled away from me in our bed, turning his back on me. If I touched him I felt like I was sexually assaulting my husband because he would always turn down my advances. This affected me so deeply that I am now in the habit of never really making a move — inappropriate or not — in a fear of being rejected or seen as some kind of sexual predator, which is still a prevalent problem in our society today.
I would also allow myself to be used by him and would regularly have sex with him whenever I wasn’t in the mood because I had no idea when I would ever be allowed to touch my husband again.
We were in a monogamous relationship so I felt like I couldn’t explore or be myself sexually. I was forced to bury my feelings of rejection, hurt and anxiety over my appearance and sexual prowess because I was married and that’s just the lot you get in life, especially if you don’t take the time to explore each other’s sexuality prior to marriage (yes, we were virgins when we started dating each other and while we in no way waited until I rocked up at the alter in a white wedding dress he was still my first and only one at the time).
It wasn’t until three years into our marriage that my husband sat me down and told me the real reason for our sexual incompatibility — he was gay.
Suddenly it all made sense. There wasn’t anything wrong with me or my vagina. All of the rejections he put me through was not because of me, it was just because he had been battling his own emotional baggage over who he really was for years. There wasn’t anything wrong with him — he just liked the same thing I liked.
I get it — penises are delightful.
But what came next was the most turbulent time of my life and the damage was done. I went through every form of grief possible, and bounced from multiple sex partners to developing alcoholism. We still remained close friends and I still love my ex-husband but there was a lot of self-discovery to be done to determine who I really was outside of the relationship. I was so lost at a crucial time of my life that the anxiety and depression regularly overcame me. In the end, the only way to move forward for me was to push it down and to blame the douchebags I dated that came after my husband and not the stress he had put me through during our marriage, as well as the dissolution.
When you’re in a relationship, it’s easy to look at things with rose-coloured glasses. When you get out, the cracks start to show.
I’ve recently started dating someone new, and I really like him, but his own emotional baggage is pretty filled to the brim. His schedule is pretty full-on and he has a lot of familial commitments. It means I don’t get to see him as regularly as I would like to and while I celebrated the possibilities for independence, a lot happened during the start of the year and we ended up not being able to sleep together for six weeks.
The sexual tension meant I was about to explode like a bomb and any residual silence on his end brought my PTSD to a head.
I have never gone more than two weeks without sex in the two years since I had been single. My sex drive was so high that I would just make it happen with anyone who was around. But I wanted to work things out with him — I wanted to have sex with him. So I waited.
And then I got mad and irrational and horny. And then I started thinking about how my ex-husband would reject me, would roll away from me in bed. I thought about the times I would try and touch him and he would remove my hands. I thought about rejection after rejection from practically every date I had in the last three years.
And then suddenly I was crying on the floor of the shower as flashbacks rolled through my head. I remembered the problems we had while we were married and remembered what my psychologist had said about having PTSD. Suddenly I realised I was having an episode brought about a lack of sex in my current relationship and then suddenly I was scrambling for my phone, texting my lover again and again trying to ease whatever weird tension was between us that was making us not have sex.
My anxiety went crazy after every ‘read’ message appeared on the screen with no reply. I tried every way possible to elicit a response to see if we were ok or if I had done something. My stomach filled with dread like I had swallowed lead and my brain screamed at me saying ‘He’s going to dump you!’ and ‘He’s gotten back with his ex and he is trying to figure out how to tell you!’
Eventually we got a conversation out that determined nothing was wrong between us, that bad timing and anxieties and stress had gotten in the way and that we both needed to take a big fucking chill pill. We then arranged a cute date for that night and spent time together talking it out.
An honest and truthful conversation about where our heads were at was the most crucial element to quelling our anxieties. We recognised in ourselves during that period of introspection what we needed and communicated that to each other, taking each person’s feelings into consideration. It was yet another reason why communication is absolutely crucial to any relationship. Without it, you are strangers lying in bed wondering why your husband won’t touch you and is your vagina normal?
If this honest and truthful conversation had occurred during my marriage, I can bet that I wouldn’t be crying in my shower suffering from rejection flashbacks. Maybe if we were all a bit more honest and trusting with other and with ourselves the hurt would be a lot less. Sure, it can take a long time to get to the area of introspection that we need to be at in order to make our minds up — and some people can never get there — but you can’t get anywhere in life without honest communication.
It helps make up what it means to be human.
I still have PTSD over my divorce and my marriage but I am no longer grieving the loss. I still talk to my husband and I still love him dearly and having sex finally helped in moving forward with my current lover. We determined through lines of open and honest communication that we are actually a perfect match for each other, both of us being busy with our own lives and our anxieties from our pasts, putting us in a perfect place to date each other. It’s comfortable and honest and probably more real than I ever had with my husband because of that.
I’m not perfect — I never will be. The emotional baggage will always be there. It might get a little lighter every day but it is always going to fit in my handbag. Just be honest about who you are and where you are up to in your own journey — it’s the best thing for you to grow.